Here at our CUSEF blog, we share news, updates and stories about China and the United States. We provide more than a cursory glimpse of what’s going on between the two powers - here, we offer an in-depth look into their current state of affairs.

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China and U.S. COVID-19 Vaccines: Hope for the New Year

2020-12-14
Pharmaceutical company Pfizer, in partnership with BioNTech, announced last month that its two-dose vaccine had an efficacy rate of 95%. [Photo credit: NurPhoto/Getty Images]
Pharmaceutical company Pfizer, in partnership with BioNTech, announced last month that its two-dose vaccine had an efficacy rate of 95%. [Photo credit: NurPhoto/Getty Images]

Though this tumultuous and unexpected year has altered our everyday life, the end of the coronavirus pandemic is in sight as China and the United States enter the final phases of trials and will shortly begin the vaccine distribution process. The United States is mere days away from distributing its vaccine. Pharmaceutical company Pfizer, in partnership with BioNTech, announced last month that its two-dose vaccine had an efficacy rate of 95%.

However, new research shows the protection starts kicking in much earlier. Documents provided by the Food and Drug Administration indicate strong protection against the coronavirus about ten days after the first dose. The FDA announced that it might greenlight this vaccine within days, thus ushering in the U.S.’ first COVID-19 inoculation. Should it be granted an emergency use authorization (EUA), the immunizations that consist of two doses administered about three weeks apart could start as soon as next week. According to The New York Times, the vaccine’s swift impact will benefit not just the people who get it, but the country’s strained hospitals; it could curb the flow of new patients into intensive care units.

This comes with good and bad news. While the shot received an A+ report card as far as vaccines go, some side effects can be severe. Trial participants reported experiencing mild low-grade fever and chills, muscle pain, and headaches. Despite this, the FDA disclosed that these symptoms can be common and raise no specific safety concerns that hinder the EUA status of Pfizer’s vaccine. The good news, which worried many before the release of trial data, reveals the vaccine worked well regardless of a volunteer’s gender, race, weight or age. The same success was found in people struggling with obesity, who carry a greater risk of contracting COVID-19 as CDC warns.

The Pfizer vaccine is not the only U.S.-backed candidate. It is one of the four in phase three trials; next up will be U.S. biotech firm Moderna, which has also submitted its EUA application but suspended testing of the highest dose of its vaccine during the trial due to reports of severe adverse reactions. With front-runners Pfizer and Moderna building their vaccines with an innovative technology that has never before been licensed in the U.S., it is only a matter of time before the FDA reaches its authorization decision.

China’s coronavirus vaccine efforts must not go unnoticed either. For the first time, one of the country’s vaccines has been approved by a government for general use to frontline defense workers. The United Arab Emirates has endorsed this vaccine made by China National Pharmaceutical Group, known as Sinopharm, after reviewing the drugmaker’s assessment that the shot was 86% effective. Despite the pending phase three trial results, Sinopharm’s efficacy rate puts the company’s vaccine behind Moderna’s 94.5% and Pfizer-BioNTech’s 95 percent, but ahead of AstraZeneca’s 70 percent. The vaccine has already received approval for emergency use to groups that have a high risk of infection.

The United Arab Emirates has endorsed this vaccine made by China National Pharmaceutical Group, known as Sinopharm, after reviewing the drugmaker’s assessment that the shot was 86% effective. [Photo credit: Mark Schiefelbein/AP]


“We must be prepared for large-scale production,” Vice Premier Sun Chunlan said during a visit to developers, according to the official Xinhua News Agency. Sinopharm has clinical trials in ten different countries with over 60,000 volunteers including Egypt, Jordan, Peru and Argentina. If all goes according to plan, health officials predict China will be able to manufacture around 610 million doses by the end of the year and eventually work its way up to 1 billion doses next year.

An emphasis on accessible distribution remains a primary goal for China’s pharmaceutical companies. The country has ensured that its vaccines are affordable for developing nations, actively pursuing deals around the world. China will send hundreds of millions of doses in the coming months around the world to those that have conducted last-stage trials for its leading candidates, with its leaders further promising priority access to developing countries.

In October, China joined the World Health Organization-backed global initiative COVAX to guarantee equitable, rapid distribution of COVID-19 vaccines to both developed and developing nations. This project was designed to focus on vaccinating high-risk groups in every country. Another Chinese company, Sinovac, has trials in Brazil, Turkey and Indonesia while additional producer CanSino is conducting tests in Pakistan, Russia, and Mexico, amid pursuing partnerships in Latin American countries.

China joined the World Health Organization-backed global initiative COVAX in October to guarantee equitable, rapid distribution of COVID-19 vaccines to both developed and developing nations. [Photo credit: Yui Mok/The New York Times]

Scholars and experts have called on China and the United States to work together to distribute their vaccines worldwide, which would benefit both countries. From a U.S. standpoint, cooperating with China to circulate the vaccine will demonstrate a supported commitment to developing countries, which would otherwise be confronted with a certain humanitarian disaster. From China’s point of view, a proper coronavirus partnership with the U.S. would bring a quicker end to the pandemic, protecting the health of humanity and the prosperity of developing nations while not allowing post-pandemic recovery to completely dismantle global economic growth. Scholars Cheng Li and James Hayes from the Brookings Institution suggest cooperation through an established task force between American CDC and Chinese Center for Disease Control. This task force would coordinate with private Chinese and American entities to expedite vaccine manufacturing and on-the-ground distribution.


President Xi Jinping has expressed interest in better international cooperation on the vaccine front and policies to facilitate orderly global movement. “China is willing to strengthen cooperation with other countries in the research and development, production, and distribution of vaccines,” Xi told the G20 Riyadh Summit via video link. With President-elect Joe Biden taking immediate action against COVID-19 by laying out a three-point plan that includes: 1) vaccinating 100 million Americans in his initial 100 days in office; 2) signing a face mask mandate on his first day in office; and 3) getting kids back to school safely, many predict vaccine collaboration with China will be a part of his larger mitigation plan.

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